No, I Don’t Want My Kid to be a Doctor! Said no one ever.

“Mommy, where is insert toy?” This is a question I get multiple times a day in my house. Usually I respond with some sort of short verbal direction, “on the bottom of the bookshelf.” In order for children to understand these directions they must have spatial skills and understanding. Spatial skills incorporate the ability to understand size in relation to other sizes and shapes.  Spatial awareness is used to form other objects, read maps, and comprehend the movement of an object. As adults we take these skills for granted, forgetting that somewhere along the way we had to be taught spatial relations among objects.

Study on spacial awareness developed through Vanderbilt University,  has found children who are exposed to spatial concepts at an early age have an easier time with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) later in life. They are also more likely to go into STEM related fields.

Teaching your child these skills may be easier than you think. With a little time and simple tools your child will be on their way to better understanding spatial concepts.

Reading Books Containing Spatial Language

We all know that reading to your child helps to foster the love of reading but choosing specific types of books will help to enhance your child’s knowledge. Below are a few examples of books that incorporate spatial words into their stories.

up down

Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayers and Nadine Bernard Westcott
Two preschool kids going around in the garden helping children to understand the meaning of up, down, and around.




Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins Macmillan

A hen leaves it’s coop for a walk around. A fox follows this hen trying to catch up. Children are exposed to many spatial words in this book with visuals to help with understanding.


bigbugBig Bug by Henry Cole
This book focuses on big and little. Starting with the a bug and zooming out to the sky, then zooming in again to a dog.



piggiesPiggies in the Pumpkin Patch by Mary Peterson and Jennifer Rofe
Before the story there is a map of the adventure the pigs are going on.  Make use of this before reading to help kids understand what maps are for. Then continue to the story of the pigs’ adventure. This story uses more complex spatial words and is a great introduction to them.

Playing with Your Child

As you play with puzzles, blocks, legos, and Magnatiles with your child you use spatial language naturally. “Put the block on top.” “Put the puzzle piece next to the the one with blue on it.” As we describe where to put something we tend to use gestures to reinforce what we mean. Below are activities to help enhance spatial skills.

Incorporate spatial words while playing
above, across, ahead, apart, around, away, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, by, close to, down, in, in between, inside, into, near, next to, on, onto, opposite, out, outside, over, through, together, toward, under, up, etc.

Everyone tends to have puzzles and this is a very inexpensive way to teach your child how to look at the picture on the box and recreate it using the puzzle pieces.

Color Code Game
This is a step up from puzzles. It makes one think a bit more 3D. Not only do you have to come up with the same shape but many times you have to stack slides on top of one another to create the shape.

Fill containers full of water
Give your child different size cups let them pour water back and forth. this will help them to understand that some cups are bigger and some are smaller so they hold different amounts of water. If you are looking to buy a toy we like the Primary Science Mix and Measure Set. Not only can they use it for measurements but it has science experiments to use later on.

Lego Pattern Cards from Playdough to Plato
These free printables help your child understand how the legos can make a pattern and where each color is in relation to the other. Be sure to use words like next to, or by while working on this with your child. You could even make your own cards and incorporate big and little blocks into the pattern.

Make a map with Cat in the Hat
PBS has a great exercise on learning direction, location, and size of objects by making a map of a familiar place such as your living room. This is a really wonderful exercise that uses many spatial vocabulary terms.

Whether you have a budding scientist, engineer, or mathematician on your hands or you just want your child to understand distance, size, or simply follow verbal directions to find something, they must have spatial skills. Take a few  minutes this evening and put a puzzle together with your child. They will have no idea that you are teaching them but they will enjoy those moments that are dedicated just to them.

Written by Jamie Jackson


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